“That question is perhaps the most common one raised by patients facing a diagnosis of cancer for the first time. There are so many campaigns about how to ‘avoid’ cancer: no white sugar, no chemicals, all-plant diets, regular exercise, don’t smoke, don’t drink. I can see how one can get the impression that if one does all of it, cancer will never touch him or her. Yet, every once in a while, someone comes to my office who drives home the message that all most people can do—and all most clinicians can advise—is risk reduction, not prevention. Such was the case with Laurie*.
“Laurie was in her early fifties, the mom of twin girls. She had prided herself on being a health nut—aerobic exercise in the morning, yoga in the evening. She did not eat red meat and didn’t drink alcohol. Her family adopted an organic diet; she even grew her own vegetables. She was proud of her reputation as the ‘healthiest mom on the block.’ She had told me that others in her little town often sought her counsel about how to get healthier.
“Then, she found a mass in her breast. At first, she couldn’t believe it, thinking it must have been a blocked duct. However, it grew with time, and eventually, a mass appeared under her axilla.
“By the time she was diagnosed she had a 5cm breast mass and at least two sonographically suspicious nodes. A biopsy confirmed triple-negative breast cancer. She was devastated. Even more, she just couldn’t understand how this happened to her.”